Wes Pedersen, a veteran government communicator and public affairs counselor whose prolific writings on PR, policy and grammar were well-known to readers of the Washington Post and O'Dwyer's, died from a heart ailment Dec. 4 in Bethesda, Md. He was 91.
A Nebraska native, Pedersen started out as a reporter for the Sioux City Journal in Iowa after graduating from Upper Iowa Univ., and served in the Air Force during World War II. He joined the federal government as a writer and correspondent in the 1950s, moving to the U.S. Information Agency in the 1960s and '70s writing publications, content and producing special projects from presidential biographies to dispatches on nuclear tests.
He left the public sector in 1980, when he was named director of communications for the Public Affairs Council, the trade group for PA pros where he worked until the mid-2000s.
"At heart he was a writer — a witty wordsmith who never lacked for robust opinions," the Washington Post's Richard Leiby wrote of Pedersen. "He peppered the Washington Post’s letters pages with missives on political history, martinis and the misuse of words (never write 'from whence,' he instructed, just 'whence')."
In one of his last columns for O'Dwyer's, Pedersen exhorted PR pros to "up their game" with nine axioms for the profession, including a request for every practitioner to represent the industry: "Recognize that you can have a winning role in bolstering the reputation of your chosen field of work," Pedersen wrote. "Teach PR at colleges of your choice. Write op-eds. Do a video for high school kids contemplating entry into public relations. When critics in the media insult public relations and its practitioners, respond with positive rebuttals to the misguided and to their editors. Don’t expect your professional organizations to do the job. They’ve been trying for years without much appreciable success to get the media to appreciate our work.”
Pedersen is survived by his wife of 65 years, Angela, a son, Eric, and two granddaughters.